The number of bear-related complaints in Slave Lake, Alta. has skyrocketed exponentially this year, officials say.

So far this year, Slave Lake Fish and Wildlife has received 166 complaints involving bears, compared to just 59 complaints for all of 2018.

“The Slave Lake district is primarily a forested area with a healthy bear population and there is currently an abundance of berries that the bears are feeding on,” the department said in a statement. 

One of the higher-profile encounters took place in a Slave Lake barbershop in August.

Staff said a bear wandered in to LionsDean Barbershop and “terrorized” the business, knocking over equipment and even perching itself on a small shelf.

"By the end of it, he was trying to get out. He was trying to smash my door before the cops came in,” owner Sam Assaf said.

Fish and Wildlife said the bear managed to get out and returned to its natural habitat where it wasn’t a concern to public safety.

Several other Slake Lake residents shared video with CTV News Edmonton of bears lumbering through their backyards and in one case, running through a sports field.

“I am not bothered by the bears as most people are,” said Beverly Langan, who filmed a large black bear strolling through her yard. “We live up north. It’s not uncommon, but this year we have had more than usual and I think it has to do with the fires and flooding that were in the area.”

One person sent in a video of a family of bears walking right up to their home and said they were seen bending and breaking tree branches to get at berries and apples.

Donna Packolyk, who lives in the subdivision of Springwood, said she wasn't surprised to hear of the dramatic increase in bear complaints.

"I know that there's generally bears back there just because it is the creek and there are berries," she said. "This year is extraordinary within the town because of the number of bears that are here."

During Packolyk's Facetime interview with CTV News Edmonton, a bear even wandered onto her property to eat berries.

"He had come up right to the bear trap and when he saw me looking through the door, he took off," she said. "I'm just shaking."

She said the bears' presence, which is the talk of the town, is even more concerning now that school has started.

"I think a lot of people are posting it because we're concerned about people walking, especially now that school is back in, for the safety of the kids," she said. "Just last week I think there were five bears at a local playground."

While the spike in bear complaints could be chalked up to wildlife corridors that run through some Slave Lake-area communities, there are steps residents can take to avoid unwanted conflicts in urban areas.

Fish and Wildlife recommends taking the following precautions:

  • Store garbage in bear-resistant and smell-proof containers, or better yet, inside
  • Attractants like pet food, garbage, barbecues should be cleaned up or removed as soon as possible
  • Gardens and fruit trees or shrubs should be properly maintained, picked or removed

Anyone who has a concerning encounter with a bear or other wildlife is asked to report it to the 24-hour Report a Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett